If you thought you could never like a fruitcake, don't throw in the towel until you've tried black cake, the tasty holiday treat made throughout the English-speaking Caribbean for Christmas, New Year's and weddings. Related to British plum pudding, the rich desert may be a holiday staple for many, but the required ingredients can be expensive in the Caribbean and the process is labor-intensive, making this cake a festive luxury and a generous holiday gift.
Black cake's dark color and deep flavor come from rum-soaked fruit and burnt brown sugar or browning, a burnt-sugar essence. To make traditional black cake, currants, raisins and prunes are soaked in a mixture of rum and wine or cherry brandy for months before they are used in the cake. (After a cake is prepared and enjoyed for Christmas, some bakers immediately start a new batch of marinating fruit for next year's cake. Most recipes now call for soaking the fruit only three to five days, or even one day in a pinch, though purists insist the longer soak period is required for the best flavor and perfect color.)
The fruits are ground to a paste before they are added to the cake batter, so you won't find any large chunks in this fruit cake. So, what will you find?
Regional or family variations can contain nuts and additional fruits, use different types of rum or be finished with a white almond icing. Some countries use the term "rum cake" more often than black cake, but the dessert remains recognizable in all of its versions as a uniquely dark and intoxicating cakelike treat.
In addition to the rum-soaked fruit, rum is poured over the finished cake until thoroughly saturated (it is nearly impossible for this dessert to spoil, it's so preserved in alcohol and sugar), and it is often served with a glass of rum as well.
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If you'd rather pick up a ready-made cake than attempt your own, popular Jamaican restaurant and grocer Natraliart in Arlington Heights offers black cake slices throughout the year and currently sells whole rum cakes for the holidays for $14 apiece. The cakes it carries are made by Jeffrey Brown, whose local catering company, PattiesXpress, also takes special orders for rum cakes. Brown marinates the fruit for his cakes for a full year and uses a recipe he inherited from his grandmother.
A small slice goes a long way with this dramatic cake, and it's a classy way to bring a little more boozy cheer to your holiday spread — Caribbean style.